Do-it-yourself Dysart’s

Posted Jan. 04, 2011, at 5:57 p.m.

Baked beans. Pot roast. Fish chowder. Poutine. Pancakes. And, of course, raspberry pie. Or apple pie, if that’s your preference. Or blueberry. You really can’t choose a bad one.

That’s some of what hundreds of thousands of hungry customers at Dysart’s Restaurant in Hermon have ordered over the past 43 years, whether they come in at 1 p.m. or 3 a.m., for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a midnight snack. It seems only natural that a cookbook featuring classic Dysart’s recipes would come out — and it did, in 2001.

But restaurant owner Mary Dysart Hartt had bigger plans that went past the smaller edition she published 10 years ago. Hartt wanted a cookbook that not only showcased the Maine-style comfort food her family’s business has dished up over the decades, but also told the story of Dysart’s — through the eyes (and bellies) of employees and customers alike.

“We put together a scrapbook for the Dysart’s 40th anniversary back in 2007. I’ve saved all kinds of newspaper clippings and articles over the years,” said Hartt. “Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to do another cookbook that went through all the stuff we’ve collected over all this time. There’s an awful lot of stories to tell.”

The end result is “Cooking With Dysart’s: Stories and Recipes From Over 40 Years,” a full-color, 180-page tribute to both the food and the people of the beloved Hermon truck stop and family eatery. It was published last month, and the first 1,000-copy run sold out in a matter of weeks. The next printing will be available this Friday, Jan. 7, at all Dysart’s locations.

Hartt and collaborator Allison Frazier, a 2006 University of Maine graduate and former Dysart’s waitress, wrote the book over the past year, combing through hundreds of clippings and interviewing longtime customers, kitchen staff and wait staff for their favorite memories. Hartt knew Frazier was the right one to work with, after reading her letters sent to the restaurant while Frazier was studying abroad in 2004.

“I wrote all kinds of letters back from wherever I was, and Mary told me she liked my writing style,” said Frazier, a Bangor native who now lives in Portland. “She called me up this year and said to me, ‘Want to write a book?’”

“In our 24-7 world at the restaurant, it’s a bit of a task to pick out which stories we should tell,” said Hartt. “We’ve got 40-plus years of salt-of-the-earth folk who all want to share their thoughts and feelings on the experiences here.”

Some of the folks include customers like Normand Lajoie, a potato trucker from Cyr Plantation, known to truckers statewide as “Superfrog,” who has been coming to Dysart’s since it opened. There’s Sally, one of the front desk women, who hadn’t taken a vacation for 10 years — but when she did, there was wild speculation among staff and patrons alike as to where she really went. There are Greg and Betty Feeney, who came to the Bangor area from New Brunswick to run the kitchen when Dysart’s first opened in 1967, and Betty Feeney’s pie crust is still the one all pies start with.

There’s a passage on feeding troops that arrive at Bangor International Airport; there’s even a glossary of trucker terms.

“There was still plenty more stuff we weren’t able to include,” said Frazier. “Not too long ago, someone lost their false teeth in a napkin. Those are the kinds of stories that happen when you’re a family business and a truck stop.”

Hartt took the mouthwatering photographs in the book, showcasing the real, unvarnished dishes available at Dysart’s.

“I wanted to make sure that they all looked like how they look on the table,” said Hartt. “Sometimes the food in cookbooks doesn’t even look real. But this is definitely a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of thing. Well, we may have washed a carrot.”

Hartt and Frazier worked with Bruce Kennett of the Maine Media Workshops in Rockport to design and layout the book, combining photos, recipes, stories and newspaper clippings and text. Upon its publication in December, Hartt decided that all proceeds from the book’s sales would be donated to cancer charities in Maine, and toward purchasing gas cards for individuals and families stricken by cancer who need help getting to and from doctor’s appointments.

Sales have been brisk, with all the copies in-store at the restaurant and gas stations flying off the shelves, and online orders going out to places as far away as Korea and Italy. Hartt and Frazier hope to get the book into bookstores soon. They also hope that their book serves fans not just as a recipe collection, but as a look into life at one of Maine’s most famous restaurants.

“Anybody can put out a book of recipes,” said Hartt. “This is stories, with recipes with it. You can pick it up and look at it, whether you want to cook or not.”
“Cooking With Dysart’s: Stories and Recipes From Over 40 Years” retails for $19.95 and will be available this Friday in all Dysart’s stores and online at www.dysarts.com.

Dysart’s Mystery Mocha Pudding
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup flour
Þ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
1 square baking chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Topping:
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup strong coffee

Melt chocolate and butter together, set aside to cool. Mix together sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, milk and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture last, and blend in.
Pour into a 9-by-9 greased pan. Mix together the topping: brown sugar, white sugar and cocoa. Sprinkle topping over cake mixture, then pour one cup strong coffee over it. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Dysart’s

Dysart’s Beef Stew
1 pound stew beef, cut into one inch cubes
2 cups baby carrots
1 cup cubed turnip
1 stalk celery, cut into one inch pieces
1 teaspoon Gravy Master
3 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large Maine potatoes, diced
1 small onion chopped
2 tablespoons oil
For roux:
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter

Heat oil in Dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot. Brown beef in oil for 15 minutes. Add hot broth, Gravy Master and spices. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 2 hours, or until beef is almost tender. Add onions and celery, simmer for ½ hour. At this point add carrots, potatoes and turnip, and summer until vegetables are tender.

Make roux out of butter and flour, and blend both ingredients together in a saucepan until smooth. Thicken stew with roux by gradually stirring into beef mixture; continue stirring for one minute at a boil. Reduce to low heat until thick.
Recipe courtesy of Dysart’s.

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